- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

It will be the summer of nerve-jangled women and bellowing men, as Washington theaters and venues pay tribute to playwright and short story author Tennessee Williams.

The Kennedy Center will be Southern Gothic central, hosting “Tennessee Williams Explored,” a series of new productions of the prolific writer’s most famous plays. Oscar-nominated (for 2003’s “Pieces of April”) actress Patricia Clarkson will portray the delicate, deranged Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Eisenhower Theatre through May 30.

Up-and-comer Adam Rothenberg will don the torn T-shirt of cultural icon Stanley Kowalski, with Amy Ryan as Stella and Noah Emmerich as Mitch. Garry Hynes directs.

Movie actress Mary Stuart Masterson, who gracefully made the leap in 2002 to the stage with her strong performance in the Broadway musical “Nine,” slips into the famous white slip to portray Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (June 12-July 4), directed by Mark Lamos. This story of a contentious, torn-apart Southern family also stars George Grizzard as Big Daddy, Jeremy Davidson (of “Nijinsky’s Last Dance” and “Sex in the City” fame) as Brick, and Dana Ivey as Big Mama.

Sally Field assumes the role of the ultimate steel magnolia, Amanda Wingfield, in “The Glass Menagerie,” running July 17 to Aug. 8. Gregory Mosher will direct this masterpiece about memory, fragile personalities and suffocating mothers.

In addition to the plays, the festival includes Richard Thomas in “A Distant Country Called Youth” (June 11-12), a one-man show featuring early letters written by Mr. Williams that are at times humorous and always highly personal. “A Distant Country” will be performed in the Terrace Theater. Tickets for “Tennessee Williams Explored” range from $25 to $75 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 202/467-4600.

The Kennedy Center will also present the Washington National Opera’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written and conducted by Andre Previn, tomorrowthrough June 2. New Zealander Teddy Tahu Rhodes, a noted baritone, will play Stanley. Tickets for this opera, which the Wall Street Journal proclaims “the best new opera seen or heard in 25 years,” are priced at $41 to $285. Call 202/467-4600 for details.

Arena Stage also gets into the humid spirit with “Orpheus Descending,” Mr. Williams’ highly colored drama of a young, charismatic musician who comes to a small town and lights the souls (among other things) of the womenfolk. The play opens today and runs until June 27 in the Kreeger Theater, directed by Arena’s artistic director Molly Smith. Matt Bogart, who so captivated audiences as Lancelot in “Camelot,” will play the passionate Val, with Chandler Vinton as the lonely Lady Torrance. Ticket prices for “Orpheus” are $40 to $59; contact the box office at 202/488-3300 for more information.

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